Online Game Company Readies Biggest Release

Irvine-based NHN USA Inc.'s chief executive practices what he preaches.

Philip Yun, 32, recently landed the top post and is set to run NHN's newly established local operations from the standpoint of a pretty hardcore game fan, which means more technologically advanced games.

Yun, who's from South Korea, says he spends a few hours a day on NHN's free-to-play multiplayer online games-even during the weekends.

His favorite: NHN's "Soldier Front," a war-themed multiplayer game.

Prior to joining NHN, Yun headed international publishing and marketing for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation unit in South Korea.

He was recruit- ed from Sony when parent com pany NHN Corp., South Korea's top online video game developer, set up a U.S. outpost in 2004.

About a year ago, NHN moved its U.S. headquarters from Silicon Valley to Irvine, joining other online game companies in Orange County, including industry kingpin Blizzard Entertainment Inc. of Irvine, which now is part of Vivendi SA's Activision Blizzard Inc.

Others include Irvine's K2 Network Inc. and True Games Interactive, a Santa Ana-based company started by two K2 Network veterans.

Like Blizzard, NHN develops what are called "massive multiplayer online games" where thousands of players face off over the Internet.

The company is something of a household name in South Korea. NHN runs the country's biggest Web search engine as well as its largest online game site.

NHN USA established a site geared toward English-speaking players,, with about 100 free-to-play games and more than 6 million registered users, according to Yun.

"Our plan is to be the No. 1 gaming portal in North America," he said.

The company, which has some 60 workers here, has plans to role out six multiplayer games in the next year or so.

One of the most anticipated titles is "Huxley," a shooting game that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where human beings have mutated and are divided into three opposing mythical races.

The game was inspired by Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel "Brave New World."

NHN licensed the game from South Korean game developer Webzen Inc. and is set to tweak it for online play.

"'Huxley' is the biggest title we've ever had," Yun said. "This game is a huge piece of intellectual property for us and we'll have the rights to it in the future."

Another game developer is said to be making a version of "Huxley" for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, a video game console.

NHN is in the midst of working out its big marketing push before "Huxley" is released.

It's looking into cross-promotions, action figures and art, among other ideas.

"'Huxley' has great characters and great artwork," Yun said. "We are talking to the publishers about a bunch of different opportunities."

NHN is seeing growth in its free-to-play model as more consumers look for inexpensive alternatives for entertainment, according to Yun.

"A recession can be a good opportunity for us," he said. "I haven't seen any downturn in the number of users registering, revenue or game play."

The closely held company doesn't disclose sales.

In Asia, NHN pioneered the free-to-play model, where players can download and play a game for free.

NHN makes money as players buy items along the way-such as weapons or access to other areas in the game-that give players an edge over rivals.

Others are just for fun, such as being able to customize the look of your online character.

"Free to play isn't the mainstream right now, but in the near future, I think it will be," Yun said.

Free games are looking more attractive nowadays, compared with just-released console games, which go for around $60 a pop in stores, Yun said.

"There's nothing cheaper than free," he said.

Online games tend to have longer lifespans than traditional console games.

"Online games are kind of alive. You have to take care of them and the community of players," he said. "Our marketing efforts can last one or two years to promote and maintain a game."

NHN's biggest task is translating a South Korean game for a North American audience.

It's not just a language thing, Yun said.

For one, it had to tweak the high-end graphics a bit to account for the slower broadband speeds in the U.S.

It also gave the character menus more ethnic options, he said.

"We needed to change some of the design aspects of the games to better fit North American gamers," Yun said. "It's sophisticated and delicate work."

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